Lal Singh Rai and Mary Rai

Lal Singh Rai and Mary Rai, circa 1950. Courtesy of David Rai and the Punjabi American Heritage Society.

Lal Singh Rai (October 1905 – July 1976) left the village of Boparai in the district of Jalandhar, Punjab with his friend, Chanchal Singh Rai, in search of a better life.  After they departed India, it took them over five years before they reached the United States.  After Lal Singh Rai left India, he worked in Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Fiji before arriving by ship in Panama.  He contracted malaria while he was in Panama and was almost too ill to continue on his way to the US. He made the arduous journey from Panama all the way up through Mexico and across the border into the US.  Eventually he settled in Yuba City where he married Mary Rai and grew peaches and rice.  He remained in the Yuba City area for the rest of his life.

Mary Rai (c 1923 – June 13, 2013) was a proud member of the Punjabi-Mexican community in the Yuba City area.  She was born in Tolleson, Arizona to a Punjabi Sikh father, Bishan Singh Gill, and a Punjabi-Mexican mother, Ernestine Zuniga Singh.  After serving in the British Army, her father arrived in the US in 1909 and worked in various farming jobs.  Eventually, he settled in Arizona to grow cotton where met his wife and raised five children.  Mary Rais family reflected the unique blend of Punjabi, Mexican and American cultural influences in the postwar period.  She grew up in the Catholic faith, but also retained much of her Punjabi culture.  She raised her children to attend the Catholic Church.  She also encouraged them to appreciate their Punjabi Sikh culture.  When she moved to Yuba City, she was one of only a handful of women with Punjabi heritage.  She lived in Yuba City for 66 years with her husband, Lal Singh Rai, where they raised two children, Leela and David.  She also assisted with the family farm business, and became a business woman working in real estate.  To learn more about their fascinating Punjabi-Mexican American family, view the interviews on the Kamla Show with Mary Rai, as well as her daughter, and son.

Punjabi American Heritage Society, Becoming American: The Story of Pioneer Punjabis and South Asians Donor Book (Yuba City, CA, 2012), 36.